SAN FRANCISCO, California — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a bilateral aid agency that President John F. Kennedy created in 1961. USAID’s agenda is to further the United States’ global policies and to provide humanitarian aid by assisting with international development. The U.S. president fills Cabinet positions, but USAID is an independent agency of the federal government. This puts the organization outside of the direct reach of the president. The highest executive of USAID, its administrator, nonetheless remains responsible to respect the guidance of the president, select members of the Cabinet and the State Department in its execution of foreign aid programs. This is because they control the USAID budget.
USAID’s most recent non-acting administrator was former congressperson Mark Green. Green’s commitment to anti-poverty work is a highlight of his long career in politics. His background in development can be attributed to his childhood in South Africa. In addition, Green was previously a four-term congressperson from Wisconsin’s eighth District. He helped create and pass the Millennium Challenge Act, which formed the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent bilateral aid agency. Immediately prior to his tenure as the administrator of USAID, Mark Green served as president of the International Republican Institute. This institute is committed to advancing democracy in other countries.
Green received strong bipartisan support for his nomination as USAID administrator in 2017. Upon nomination, he quickly moved to implement rapid and dramatic changes in USAID. For example, a significant change was a new policy framework at USAID. Only three policy frameworks have ever been fully articulated in USAID’s history.
Policy frameworks are USAID’s organizational doctrines that guide the organization’s direction. USAID reported, “a policy framework articulates USAID’s approach to providing development and humanitarian assistance and the agency’s programmatic and operational priorities that follow from it.” The most recent policy shift, the Journey to Self-Reliance, has declared a new definition of aid. This policy continues to be in effect today. It advocates for the ultimate need for aid to help countries end their need for aid.
Administrator Mark Green’s demonstrated commitment to anti-poverty issues and the reorientation of USAID policy was unusually timed with the Trump administration’s deprioritization of foreign aid programs in lieu of the administration’s broader America First policies.
For Green, with a background in international development and aid, his proposed reorientation of policy is normally unnecessary to implement. The Journey to Self-Reliance has received criticism for being an outdated policy. Moreover, the director-general of the French Development Agency, a counterpart of USAID, voiced suspicion over the policy, concerned that it was only an excuse for the U.S. to pull back from development.
The Center for Global Development reported that USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance supports the organization’s goal of country ownership. It stated that the metrics originate from Washington. Ostensibly, the policy shift comes as a measure of appeasement to the Trump administration’s America First policy.
However, the possibility of pulling back from development, which is the topic of direct criticism from the French director-general of development, was exactly the conciliatory shift that USAID needed in order to wean itself into the broader agenda of the Trump administration. USAID faced the regular risk of budget cuts before Green’s nomination. However, the new policy shift served to protect USAID’s threatened budget. A number of congresspeople, years into Green’s tenure, provided positive comments on his success to uphold and protect USAID’s budget and programs.
Devex, an online global development platform, enumerated a more partisan and pro-aid take on the issue and praised Green for holding the line. A Devex writer stressed Green’s comments about “total budget dysfunction” that indicates the agency was chronically worried about its budget. Furthermore, Devex quoted Green’s intention “to provide transparency and accountability and metrics in our work so that we earn not only the financial support — hopefully from all parties in the budgeting process — but that we also earn the flexibility that we need to make those dollars go further.”
Devex brings the facts full circle. The likely origin of Mark Green’s Journey to Self-Reliance is ultimately a strategy to sustain USAID’s positive development rather than an overt departure in the policies and intentions of USAID.
– Marshall Wu